Rene Descartes (1596-1650)
- Educated by Jesuits
Descartes lived in the height of the renaissance, a period of rediscovery philosophy, literature, art, and the sciences. The renaissance was a time in which many saw science as a threat to human beings’ place in the cosmos.
In a time when science led many to atheism, Descartes, a scientist and a Catholic, believed there was room in the world for science and God. He intended to rescue humankind from atheism.
This points us to questions worth pondering.
- If science tells us all there is, what becomes of the human soul, human freedom, and our relationship with God? (Blackburn)
- How can science lead to atheism?
- Was Descartes right about the coexistence of God and science?
- Do God and science coexist today?
Through his Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes essentially deconstructs everything he believes and builds it back up from a philosophical standpoint. Through this process, he even comes to doubt that he can doubt his own senses, then his very existence.
Eventually, Descartes, comes to his conclusion which he uses to prove his very existence: Cogito ergo sum. In English,
I think, therefore I am.
In the twenty-first century, our definition of “think” might be broader than it was in Descartes’ time. When one considers factors like artificial intelligence and science’s deeper understanding of animal cognition, Descartes’ proof becomes subject to scrutiny. In addition, a reverse approach brings question to the proof. By Descartes’ definition, a person who is brain dead does not exist.
Questions like these drive us to further seek a definition of human existence. Before we do, however, it is important to break the language barrier. Consider the full definition of the Latin word “cogito.”
think, cogitate; take counsel, propose, purpose; reflect (Stelten)
Considering this definition, the proof begins to make more sense. However, the reverse approach noted above still brings Descartes’ proof into question.
Blackburn, Simon. Think. Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.
Stelten, Leo. Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin. Hendrickson Publishers, 2008. Print.